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Lewis County has interest from several firms for radio project

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County officials are hopeful that interest from multiple firms at pre-bid conference Wednesday will lead to an affordable emergency radio system project.

“My belief is the more you have, the sharper your pencil gets,” Legislator Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden, said after the session.

The county has sent out two separate requests for proposals on microwave and radio equipment, with bids due back in early November.

Wednesday’s session was attended by representatives from four microwave system vendors and three radio equipment vendors, while a couple of other vendors had previously expressed interest, said Mr. King, who has been serving as lead legislator on the upgrade project.

A late 2011 study of the county’s antiquated radio system identified many deficiencies, including spotty coverage in many areas and little interoperability between emergency agencies. It recommended an upgrade, estimated at $6.4 million to $11.6 million, but that was estimated for a VHF-based system with eight towers.

After further research and discussion, county leaders are eyeing a higher-frequency UHF-based system that would include about 11 towers — rather than the four now used — to ensure coverage in most parts of the county. Pagers would remain VHF-based.

The county already has submitted an application for new radio frequencies, as well as applying for funding through the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

Robert N. Duclos from Syracuse engineering firm C&S Cos., the county’s radio consultant, told potential bidders Wednesday that the proposed tower sites and the number of towers are not set in stone. Firms should specify whatever would be needed to reach the goal of providing coverage to at least 95 percent of the county, he said.

“We’re not trying to handcuff you with these 11 sites,” Mr. Duclos said. “We want to make sure the county has adequate coverage.”

The consultant said that he would expect a “degree of variability” in proposals and that the intent was to keep specifications as loose as possible so as not to stifle vendors’ creativity or limit the number of potential bidders.

“We don’t want to constrain radio vendors into a narrow box,” he said.

Mr. Duclos also stressed to vendors that the county will not have a specific “scorecard” on which to grade specific aspects of the submitted proposals. Instead, the consultants and a committee of county officials will consider a multitude of factors — including upfront costs, coverage, long-term operations and maintenance expenses and company references — in determining the top proposals, he said.

Companies are being asked to submit bids for both a conventional radio system and a trunked one, which would use a computer-controlled switching system to allow many users to share a relatively few frequencies.

While the county ultimately would prefer to go to a trunked system, finances could dictate that it start with a conventional system with the capability of being upgraded later, Mr. Duclos said.

According to a tentative schedule, contracts for microwave and radio equipment would be awarded by the end of the year, with the intent of completing construction by the end of 2014 and testing by spring 2015. The county would also have to solicit bids on four other aspects of the project: towers, shelters, generators and site construction.

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